Board Agrees On Land Deal
Town Selectmen Support $11.1 Million Conservation Proposal
By DIANE STRUZZI
Courant Staff Writer
August 10 2006
SIMSBURY -- After listening to more than an hour of public comment Wednesday night - much of it in support of conserving more than 420 acres owned by the Ethel Walker School - the board of selectmen recommended the town appropriate $11.1 million to preserve the property.
Initially, the board considered passing a resolution that included an appropriation for only $8.5 million. But Selectman John Romano asked to increase the recommended appropriation to $11.1 million. Romano's request was met with a round of applause and a standing ovation from the crowd at Eno Memorial Hall Auditorium.
"It's time to stop talking about it and it's time to do it," said Selectman John Hampton, who seconded Romano's change to the resolution.
Wednesday night's decision comes after the school and the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit conservation organization, reached an agreement in June, offering to sell development rights to the town for $13.85 million. The trust committed to raise about $2.75 million, leaving the town's share at about $11.1 million. The town's total share could decrease to $10.6 million, if $467,000 in state grants can be used to defray the cost.
But during Wednesday's meeting not everyone supported the $11.1 million price tag. At least two audience members who spoke at the meeting said they were against the town spending that much money to acquire the land. Deputy First Selectman Joel Mandell said he did not support the $11.1 million fiscally, but would let that figure go to the board of finance so ultimately the voters can decide.
The majority of people who spoke at the meeting were in favor of the town acquiring and preserving the land. They urged the board of selectmen to move the issue to referendum so voters could decide.
"The town of Simsbury should invest in its legacy just as any proud parent would," said resident Frank Untermyer. "We have to take this opportunity and make good on our obligations as stewards of our town. ... We believe strongly that protecting this property is essential for our future in this town."
Selectwoman Moira Wertheimer was not present for the meeting, but wrote a letter describing the land as central to Simsbury's character and indicating she supports a referendum on the issue.
The recommendation approved by the selectmen says the town's appropriation could go toward the purchase of development rights, conservation easements or an outright purchase of the land that sits on Bushy Hill Road and the acquisition of three additional parcels owned by the school on Longview Drive and Stratton Brook Road.
The selectmen's action was just the beginning of a series of steps that must take place before Sept. 6, if the referendum is to be put to voters in November. The resolution will now move to the finance board for consideration for a referendum. The board can adopt the recommendation, make changes, or reject it.
A local grass-roots organization, Keep the Woods, is supporting a separate action to bring the issue to referendum with the $11.1 million price tag. On Wednesday night, Diane Nash said the petition had garnered more than what is needed to get a special referendum on the issue.
Contact Diane Struzzi at email@example.com.
Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant